It’s been a month and change since “the most ambitious crossover ever” hit theatres with Avengers: Infinity War so that means no one is talking/thinking about it anymore. Haha, I’m kidding…but only sort of. Honestly, where is the time for multiple viewings and full immersions when we jump from Black Panther to Avengers: Infinity War to Deadpool 2 to Solo: A Star Wars Story to Jurassic Word: Fallen Kingdom all in the space of a few months? It’s nothing but tentpole blockbuster after tentpole blockbuster, all demanding my total allegiance…for three weeks and asking nothing more from me after I buy tickets to boost the opening box office weekend. We have no time to savor anything anymore. But that’s the lamentation for another piece. This piece is going to examine the painful absence of the Defenders from Avengers: Infinity War as the 4,000,000,000th sign these characters do not, by any stretch of the imagination, live in the same universe.
Please Marvel, c’mon, just admit it. Just do what DC has done and officially say your TV and cinematic universes are different. No one will judge you. If anything, it will be a relief. Because it’s embarrassing watching you pretend they are connected when anyone who’s watched more than three episodes of any Netflix show and watched more than one MCU movie can tell you they aren’t. Having Jessica Jones mention the Hulk or having vague references to “the incident” does not a connected universe make. And when Thanos’s Black Order invade New York and NONE OF THE DEFENDERS arrive to do anything about it…let’s just call a spade a spade. Given what we know of these characters, there is no realistic, logical, or plausible way Ebony Maw and the Black Dwarf can show up in the middle of New York City and not have Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and a (most likely) reluctant Jessica Jones come to check it out.
Daredevil’s whole character is built around protecting “my city.” He didn’t even want to trust/work with the other Defenders to stop the Hand! There is NO WAY he’d leave Thanos’s crew to others. And the whole point of the first season of Luke Cage was Luke realizing he can’t hide away but must actively use his powers to help others. Like Matt Murdock, there’s no way the Black Order arrives and Luke isn’t there to meet them. As far as Danny Rand goes, the whole plot of The Defenders hung on his inability to just leave it alone. Had he left town, the Hand loses easily. But he had to be there. Whether he would’ve helped the situation or not, you can be damn sure Danny would’ve been in the thick of things…telling everyone – Avenger, Guardian, or Black Order – that he’s “the immortal Iron Fist.” It’s conceivable Jessica Jones, loner that she is, would’ve steered clear of all this. But, after standing with the Defenders to face the Hand, I bet she’d’ve answered Luke’s call if he rang. I get Frank Castle sitting it all out and, after the events of his series, I hope the man gets a break and a breather.
But, the Punisher aside, there is no way I can believe these other characters would have stood to the side as New York was invaded by a threat of this size. I don’t care how “street level” you are. If the city you love is being destroyed and innocent lives are in serious danger, you’re rising to the challenge.
Now, it’s not like Marvel’s creatives haven’t tried to justify this absence while still pretending (awkwardly and unconvincingly) the universes are connected. In a May 22nd interview with Collider’s Steve Weintraub, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (the screenwriters behind Avengers: Infinity War) had an in-depth discussion about the creative process of writing Avengers: Infinity War. On including the Defenders in the film McFeely said, “We talk about that all the time. I don’t know anything about animosity [between Marvel Studios and Marvel Television]. In a movie this big, we certainly had the conversation, ‘Should we put Luke Cage in this? Here we are in New York…’ That kind of stuff. As you could probably tell, it would be just a glorified cameo at this point. We’re trying to honor the MCU movies and if we then further tell the audience, ‘Oh, you should also have a good knowledge from this streaming service over here that you may or may not be subscribing to.’ That’s really asking a lot. We’re already asking a lot.”
Here’s the thing though…that’s 100% bullshit. They’re saying the didn’t include any of the Defenders because they were afraid of confusing fans who hadn’t seen their shows? Um, their prerequisite after-credits scene in THE MOST HYPED/ANTICIPATED MARVEL MOVIE EVER was essentially just a tease of the Hala Star. This is a reference that, if you’ve never read a Captain Marvel comic, you have no chance of understanding. As I’m always struggling to keep up with Netflix content, I can say I wasn’t the first to watch those shows. But I knew who Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist were long before I’d seen them. I knew who played them and, even if I didn’t know their backstory, I’d’ve recognized them on screen. I don’t think I’m alone in that either. But the Hala Star? That’s a deep cut reference. So including characters the audience may not know goes out the window as a credible excuse the moment they throw the Hala Star in there.
The justification of it being nothing but “a glorified cameo” is ridiculous too. After I saw Avengers: Infinity War I wrote, “of the twenty-three heroes assembled, the only ones who weren’t superfluous were Tony Stark, Gamora, Doctor Strange, Thor, and Wanda Maximoff (the Scarlet Witch). Every other character could have been replaced by any other random superhero in their scenes with very little effect on the narrative.” I stand by that now, after subsequent viewings. The majority of the characters were glorified cameos. What else can you call Bucky, having a line about being old before he simply punches/shoots aliens? Or Black Widow being reduced to a few clever lines and sweet fight scenes? As far as I’m concerned, EIGHTEEN of the heroes in the film had no essential role in the narrative. Including the Defenders in Avengers: Infinity War may not’ve allowed time for them to have full, developed arcs but only FIVE characters had those anyway. However, including them – regardless of their arc – would’ve went a long way to showing these universes are actually connected.
Kristopher Tapley’s May 3rd piece for Variety has co-director Anthony Russo explain, “We made the briefest consideration of [including TV characters in Infinity War]. When we’re alone in a room with [screenwriters Christopher] Markus and [Stephen] McFeely, we consider every idea. We like thinking of everything. But it seemed like the story that had been told within the movies was so specific and elaborate already that once we started working through the story, we knew we had our hands full just with this set of characters and narratives.”
As I said above, the narrative arc angle is ridiculous. I’m not saying any legitimate animosity exists between Marvel Studios and Marvel Television but I will say it’s clear they just don’t want the TV characters in the big screen movies. If you’re not figuring out a way to bring them in, cameo or not, in something like Avengers: Infinity War (a film already bloated with characters and cluttered with spastic scene changes) then you don’t want them there. This was it. Thanos was invading. ALL OF CREATION was at stake. Most of the heroes in the film were superfluous anyway. This was the moment…and they let it pass.
Even if they couldn’t figure out a way to put the Defenders in Avengers: Infinity War, I’d argue the post-credits scene would have been far more exciting/interesting/effective if we saw Luke, Jessica, Matt, and Danny stepping out into the chaos of New York City, ready to jump into action. The MCU lost half of its heroes…it seems like Avengers 4 would be a good place to have the Defenders saddle up alongside the Avengers. In a June 2nd piece for CBR.com about heroes who may/are rumored to appear in Avengers 4, Octavio Karbank argues much the same thing writing, “From a production standpoint, the creators of the individual shows have made it clear that there’s a distinct separation between the Netflix heroes and the MCU heroes. Regardless, even if the film side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe never mentions The Defenders heroes, they still exist in this world, especially given how Jessica Jones is prone to making references about the Hulk and Captain America. If ever there was an opportunity to bridge the gap between film and TV, it’s now.”
But it won’t happen because, for whatever reason, Marvel Studios doesn’t want this to happen. Are we really supposed to believe it would have made the film completely unmanageable if it had twenty-seven heroes on screen instead of twenty-three? Really? If anything, I’d argue including the Defenders would’ve helped the mixed feelings towards Avengers: Infinity War. As I wrote in my own reaction piece, I felt the film was alright…far better than many other superhero movies but less satisfying than anything the MCU’s offered so far (with the possible exception of The Hulk). But if they had included the Defenders, despite all the clutter, it would have been an important first. Just as The Avengers brought together all these heroes from individual franchises, Avengers: Infinity War would have brought together their two universes – cinematic and television. How incredible of a ten-year celebration would that have made?
Yet, they let it pass. So again I say, just call it Marvel. Say your TV and cinematic universes are separate. Open the door to allow your creatives to really create. DC has two versions of the Flash, right? Imagine how great it would be if we could have Tom Holland’s Spider-Man doing his thing with the Avengers while an older, wiser Spider-Man shows up to investigate Daredevil’s methods in Hell’s Kitchen? Take a second to really imagine this…the grittier, street level action of Netflix bringing together the violence of Daredevil with the honor code of Spider-Man as they attempt to stop the Kingpin’s rise. Who wouldn’t love this?? But we’ll never see it until Marvel openly owns the way they’ve been treating these universes for years. They aren’t connected. Just let them go their own ways.
Last weekend I was in Dallas for a family wedding. The whole weekend was divided between wedding fun and grading my all-essay final exams. However, I did grant myself a little time to finally finish Netflix’s The Punisher. I bring this up because my brother David, who’s never seen a Netflix show despite his love of the MCU films, started watching with me. At first, he was doing his own thing but, as anyone who has seen the show could attest, he was hooked within a single episode. As we were finishing our first episode of The Punisher, David turned to me and remarked how he couldn’t imagine this fitting within the MCU. You can’t place the shine of Captain America on screen opposite the violence, brutality, and heartbreak of the Punisher.
And this isn’t a bad thing! What the MCU has going is great. What Netflix is creating is brilliant too. Tonally and thematically they are entirely different vibes with entirely different focuses. If Marvel Studios didn’t care enough to bridge the gap with “the most ambitious crossover ever” then they aren’t going to do it. The sooner they admit this, the sooner each separate universe can have the freedom to grow without the façade of casual references and awkward justifications littering their screentime.